THE MORNING PLUM:
The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a news conference on Wednesday afternoon to provide a “progress report” on its investigation into Russian sabotage of the 2016 election and possible Trump campaign collusion with it, CNN reports. According to the committee’s Republican chairman, Richard Burr of North Carolina, the presser is intended to brief the public on “the things we are either close to closing the book on or have closed the book on.”
But I have learned new details about why this presser is actually happening, and they do not exactly inspire confidence in the future of this investigation, or at least in how Republicans are going to handle it going forward.
According to a senior aide to a Democratic senator on the committee, the reason this presser is happening is that Burr had initially moved to issue an interim report on the progress made by the probe.
But Democrats on the committee balked at this, the aide tells me. They worried that releasing a report would be premature and that Burr’s desire to do so might be rooted in political pressure he is feeling to wrap up the probe faster.
So after Democrats objected, a compromise was reached to hold this presser instead.
The reason this is worrisome is that Republicans are turning up the volume on their efforts to scuttle the probes. In a good piece this morning, Politico reports that pro-Trump Republicans are angry with the GOP leadership for allegedly allowing these probes to get out of hand. Some Trump allies are even claiming that this is happening because the GOP leadership allegedly opposes Trump. As one put it: “Of course, the Republican leadership is behind these probes. The Republicans cannot get over the fact that Trump won and is our president.”
Remarkably, these Trump-allied Republicans are explicitly asserting that GOP leaders are betraying Trump by failing to squelch ongoing efforts to get to the bottom of a hostile foreign power’s apparent sabotage of our democracy, in addition to the possibility of Trump campaign collusion with it. These probes are also designed to establish whether there was Russian interference, and if so, how it happened.
Yet with Trump himself regularly dismissing the entire Russia story as a hoax, his allies are now openly demanding that GOP leaders work harder to derail the probes and casting any failure to do so as part of a secret GOP plot to destroy Trump’s presidency. For instance, former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon recently suggested that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan “have allowed” these committees to continue “going after President Trump every day,” as if the proper response of GOP leaders is to close down the probes.
The notion that the GOP establishment is out to get Trump — and the companion claim that there is a meaningful ideological schism between them — is a fiction that has been concocted to explain away whatever goes wrong during the Trump presidency. It has been used to explain the failure of Trump to sign major legislation (never mind that Trump went all in with McConnell and Ryan on every failed Obamacare repeal bill and now is largely in sync with their push for huge tax cuts for the rich).
Now that fiction is being employed to explain why the Russia story keeps producing new revelations that continue to weaken the president. It appears that this may be creating new pressure on GOP leaders and Republicans on the relevant committees to wrap up their probes faster.
Indeed, Politico reports that in Burr’s home state of North Carolina, Republicans say a large segment of the grass roots sees these probes as a threat to Trump and don’t want them to be allowed to run their course. This might help explain why Burr wanted (as the Democrat aide told me above) to issue an interim report, though, to be fair, Burr appears to have taken a serious approach to his probe.
Today we will gain a clearer sense of where the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation is heading next. The committee’s ranking Democrat, Mark Warner (Va.), has said he expects the probe to continue into next year. CNN reports that today’s news conference will shed light on what the investigation has uncovered so far confirming Russian meddling, will “sound the alarm” about Trump’s continued dismissal of that meddling as a hoax and will discuss how we can protect future elections from sabotage.
And so, this probe and the others are pivotal to gaining the truth about what happened in 2016 and to future efforts to protect our democracy. But you can expect Trump allies to amplify their claims that the investigations are nothing but a witch hunt against our poor, unfairly persecuted president and to escalate their calls for GOP leaders to shut them down.
Update: Politico previously reported on the push for an interim report. What’s new here is that Dems balked, because they feared Burr was under pressure to wrap up the probe quickly, and that both sides compromised with this presser.
Update II: Rebecca Glover, a spokesperson for Senator Burr, emails this response: “Your opinion piece is not factual.”
* FACEBOOK’S RUSSIA-LINKED ADS WERE HIGHLY TARGETED: CNN also scoops that some of the Facebook ads paid for by the Russians were highly targeted in Wisconsin and Michigan, both of which Trump won by very tight margins:
Some of the Russian ads appeared highly sophisticated in their targeting of key demographic groups in areas of the states that turned out to be pivotal, two of the sources said. The ads employed a series of divisive messages aimed at breaking through the clutter of campaign ads online … some clearly were geared at swaying public opinion in the most heavily contested battlegrounds.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) says the question is whether this showed a “sophistication … incompatible with not having access to data analytics from the campaign.” That would be the Trump campaign.
* REPORT: TILLERSON CALLED TRUMP A ‘MORON’: NBC News scoops that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came close to resigning over the summer amid clashes with the White House:
Tillerson had openly disparaged the president, referring to him as a “moron,” after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials, according to three officials familiar with the incident. … In August, Trump was furious with Tillerson over his response to a question about the president’s handling of the racially charged and deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, administration officials said.
As you may recall, when Tillerson was asked about Trump’s Charlottesville response, he said: “The president speaks for himself.”
* REPUBLICANS BACK AWAY ON KEY TAX PROVISION: The New York Times reports that GOP leaders are backing away from a tax reform provision that would repeal deductions of state and local taxes, because GOP lawmakers in high-taxed states are balking. The problem:
Preserving the deduction entirely would raise the cost of the Republican tax plan by more than $1 trillion over 10 years and an additional $2.3 trillion over the following decade … anything less than a full repeal would mean less money for federal coffers and could make it more difficult for Republicans to slash corporate tax rates as low as they are proposing.
Of course, in the end, Republicans will probably just end up blowing up the deficit, since deficits don’t matter when the president is a Republican.
* GOP DONORS FRET ABOUT STEPHEN BANNON: The Washington Examiner reports that top GOP donors are taking more seriously the likelihood that Bannon will promote primary challengers to Senate GOP incumbents:
One Republican donor who has already met with Bannon said that he communicated his view that money isn’t as important in elections as it used to be. The former White House chief strategist … believes he could help drive Republican challenger candidates to victory next year with the technological tools now available to campaigns.
The big question here is whether these challengers will run on the Trumpian economic populist agenda that Bannon keeps claiming actually exists. We’re skeptical.
* HEALTH EXPERTS PUSH ACA ENROLLMENT: A group of health-care experts has launched a new initiative called “Get America Covered,” whose goal is to help people enroll on Obamacare’s individual markets. With Trump sabotaging enrollment in multiple ways, the group’s goal is to provide people with the information and tools they need to take advantage of the law and its subsidies before the short enrollment window closes.
The website for the group, which is being run by former Obama health officials, is right here. Its very existence is a testament to the fact that Trump, having failed to repeal the health law, is trying to destroy it through no discernible motive other than spite.
* AND NEW DETAILS EMERGE ABOUT SHOOTER: The Post finds that Stephen Paddock may have been driven into his “loner lifestyle” by his father’s brushes with the law and quotes a witness saying he frequently abused his female companion in a local casino:
“He would glare down at her and say — with a mean attitude — ‘You don’t need my casino card for this. I’m paying for your drink, just like I’m paying for you.’ Then she would softly say, ‘Okay’ and step back behind him. He was so rude to her in front of us.”
You are probably bowled over by surprise at this detail.